One of the more memorable wines I have tasted this year is the 2012 Veramonte La Gloria Chilean Sauvignon Blanc which was vinted and aged "sur lie" (sir-lee) in its preparation. Wines made in this fashion often display a rich body, enhanced structure, and velvety texture in the mouth along with a dosage of extra complexity in its expanded flavor profile. The Veramonte is currently in stock here at the store and would be a simple wine ordinarily but becomes fundamentally altered by the sur lie process and converted into a hedonistic centerpiece. And this Veramonte effort, by the way, is not even the premier Sauvignon Blanc from the company!
Lees are the wine sediment accumulated during and after fermentation made up of dead yeast, grapeskins, seeds, stems and other solids. "Sur lie" on a wine label connotes a prolonged aging period with the pomace before racking which separates these solids from the wine. Tartaric acid in grapes then may bind with potassium at this point to form crystals which then may become more lees necessitating a second racking. Otherwise, cold fermentation and filtration are usually the antidote to crystal formation.
Sur lie wines are not a reward without risks. Lees can be divided into heavy and light categories. Heavy lees, the dross mentioned above (stems, seeds, skins, etc), can leave bad smells and grassy, vegetal flavors in wine, along with the threat of Brettanomyces (breh-tah-no-MY-seez), a grapeskin mold in the wild, which imparts characteristics in wine described as diversely as horsey, mousy, metallic, cowpie, barnyard, or bandaid. Conversely, if the contamination is mild, it may actually result in a net positive with the addition of another complimentary dimension to the flavor profile.
Light lees are what is left after the first racking, the tartrates and any suspended particles in the wine that then fall to the bottom of the tank. The risk here is mainly sulphurous odors and metallic tastes but here too Brettanomyces can survive and develop if the light lees are substantial. The prevention in both lees cases is to maintain an anticeptic winemaking facility, pick selectively and then de-stem all grapes, complete any fermentation and aging processes rapidly, and then to sulphite the wine.
On September 15th of '12 we blogged about Flash Detente, new technology that steams wine grapes instantly before vinification. Obviously, this is a game changer for the subject at hand here today.
This Friday, May 16th between 5 and 8pm, David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Selections joins us with a tasting of fine French Bordeaux and Burgundy. David is one of the good old guys in the wine trade; knowledgeable, unassuming, and approachable for those wanting to learn about wine. Please join us for the event and please become a follower of this blog. Admit it, you've always wanted to know about Brettanomyces but were always afraid to ask!